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Friday, November 23, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.

Movie review
'Café de Flore': Well-acted film's connecting thread snaps

By Jeff Shannon
Special to The Seattle Times

Whereas the recent release "Cloud Atlas" jumped around in time to illustrate its grand theme of human connections that resonate throughout history, the French-Canadian drama "Café de Flore" presents a more intimate study of romantic destiny, unfolding in a back-and-forth time frame between lovers whose lives are ultimately intertwined. In this case, however, the connecting thread is flimsy and thin, eventually snapping under the strain of contrivance.

That's too bad, because before its parallel stories converge with a thoroughly unconvincing twist, writer-director Jean-Marc Vallée demonstrates a remarkable affinity with his well-chosen cast. Together they create memorable moments in a forgettable film.

One timeline unfolds in Paris in 1969: Vanessa Paradis is superb as Jacqueline, the struggling single mother of Laurent (Marin Gerrier), a charming 7-year-old with Down syndrome who's as devoted to her as she is to him. Problems arise when Laurent grows inseparable from Veronique (Alice Dubois), a girl at his school who also has Down syndrome.

Set in present-day Montreal, the companion story focuses on Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful, recently divorced dance-club DJ, about to turn 40, who's happily involved with the young, beautiful Rose (Évelyne Brochu), while his despairing ex-wife Carole (Hélène Florent) remains desperately convinced that they'll get back together. She's tragically mistaken.

By the time Vallée delivers the logic-defying twist that ties these stories together, only the most dreamy-eyed romantics will fall for it. It's a frustrating gambit, because "Café de Flore" (the title is borrowed from a pop song that spans the decades between story lines) is a stylish, thematically ambitious love story with emotionally rich characters and well-directed performances. It's the story surrounding them that ultimately fails the credibility test.

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